NORWALK, Conn. – Tired, frustrated, discouraged, divided – those are the words used to describe the mood of the community in Norwalk by four of the people who took time Sunday morning to “Stand for Justice” on the steps of a church, singing to the passersby and holding signs.
“The Lord loves justice,” the Rev. Frank Newsome said to the flock inside the First Congregational Church on the Green before leading people outside. “So the question is, will we stand for justice for our brothers and sisters? Will we stand for justice in our community and the country? Because our world, our world, is waiting for the church to wake up and be witnesses to the light. We need to talk to one another. We need to get to know one another.”
The chorus began with “We Shall Overcome” and progressed to chanting, “What do we want/ justice” before erupting into brief laughter when a passing car honked. “If I Had a Hammer” followed, and the vocalizations progressed to Hebrew, as the Rabbi Ron Fish led a chant and then humorously suggested that the Christians hum along with his brief song.
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers and our sisters, people of different races and religions and backgrounds, people of different faith communities can all come together and dwell together in peace,” Fish said.
Afterward, asked to describe the mood of the community, Fish said it’s the same nationwide – discouragement.
“We seem to be addressing the same issues so many times, all over again,” he said. “You think you make progress, you look at the world and you realize there’s a lot of work. My prayer is that we persevere, keep singing the old songs and keep marching to the drummer beat that is the rhythm of justice is calling us. We can do better. I am discouraged by the sense that the community is divided between those who have access to justice and those that don’t. I think we’re making progress. I think there’s a tremendous amount of work yet to be done.”
Lisa Butler said standing for justice was a matter of peace and joy for her, as she loves life after having a liver transplant. But she had one word for the mood of the community: “tired.”
“We need more love, we need more parity, guidance for our young people,” she said.
Gregory Thornewell was more verbal about his thoughts, saying “frustration” is in the air.
“There’s so many inconsistencies, double standards being applied that the community is starting to lose trust and faith in the leadership of the community. The only viable answer is we’re going to have to be fair, we’re going to have to be consistent, and we’re going to have to be sensitive, culturally sensitive, to a very diverse group of people,” he said.
Thornewell said he’s not sure that law enforcement has had enough training.
“I am frustrated over Ferguson. I am frustrated over ‘I can’t breathe.’ What’s next? It just seems as though all you have to do is come out with a white shirt and a tie and say, ‘we’re working on it.’ Then it’s forgotten, it’s alright. It happens again and again and again,” he said.
Law officers should be accountable to the law, too, he said.
“We have to find a way to make these police officers very accountable because you have many of them who are not enforcing the law, they are enforcing their own beliefs, their own stereotypes and their own prejudices,” Thornewell said. “That has to stop. If this is going to continue there’s going to be an eruption. A social eruption and I don’t want that to happen but how much can you take? Everybody us contracting and contracting from the pressure and sooner or later it’s going to explode.”
Asked if that was local, Thornewell said yes. Officers who were hired to keep the peace are doing the opposite. There needs to be better background checks and psychological testing, he said.
“There’s something generating the belief that ‘because I have a gun and a badge I’m better than you. I’m better than you and I’m in control of you.’ That’s not what that badge and gun was designed to do. It’s designed, I believe, to serve and protect. … You’ve got too many law enforcement officers out there that shouldn’t be out there. Just like we have too many civilians out here on the street corners doing wrong things and they shouldn’t be out there. We have too many police officers that should never, ever have been given the power to arrest.”
Nate Yordan had a different perspective about Norwalk’s mood.
“It’s a little too divisive, actually. People are sniping at each other too much. … I think it’s worse than it’s has been. Part of that is online stuff, where everybody can snipe at each other online, rather than talking to each other,” he said.
Newsome and Fish said the demonstration was a “warm up” for a large interfaith gathering planned for 5 p.m. Sunday on the town green. Fish won’t be there as it’s Chanukah, hence his presence at the First Congregational Church.
A lot of the African-American churches and the Al Madany Islamic Center are participating in Sunday’s demonstration, he said.
“I am part of the interfaith clergy and that’s what led to the vigil,” Newsome said. “We’re trying to build some bridges between the white churches and the African-American churches. I think that will be the best thing of the candlelight vigil Sunday.”
Holding a sign and singing has been a decades-long activity for Rose Hawkins, she said. “I was around in the ’60’s when we were fighting for a different kind of justice at that time,” she said.
Hawkins, a Bridgeport resident, said she was known as Rose Riley when she was a Norwalk Common Councilwoman on and off between 1975 and 1994. Her sign was small, but very personal, she said. “Justice for all, and we mean all,” it read.
“I want everybody out there to know that even though it’s a small sign, my face for justice is huge. It’s huge. It extends from the ’60’s to the 2014’s. That’s a lot of years. That’s a lot of years. I’m hoping that as I get older that I will be able to leave a better world, especially when it comes to justice for all, for everyone,” she said. “… It’s a long span, come a long way. We made baby steps. I am really worried about it taking a back step in light of especially with what’s happening.”